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National Register of Citizens of Assam

Context

The final draft list of citizens, published on July 30, leaves out the names of approximately 40 lakh residents of Assam

Issue with Citizenship in Assam

  • Assam has long history of migration since British period to Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971
  • After Independence, to protect the exclusive identity of tribes of Assam, GoI enacted ‘The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950’
  • Under this act central government can order such person or class of persons to go out of India or Assamif such persons stay in Assam is harmful to the people of India or any other section of Scheduled Tribe in Assam
  • Later, the first NRC was prepared in 1951, by recording details of people included in that year’s Census. Now it is updated in Assam only
  • During the liberation movement of Bangladesh large scale migrants move to India. This increase the fear of demographic change in Assam
  • This eventually led to an agitation during 1979-85, led by the All Assam Students’ Union and finally Assam accord was signed in 1985
  • Clause 6A was inserted in the Citizenship Act, 1986 with special provisions for Assam.

Eligibility criteria for inclusion

  • Persons included in the 1951 census
  • Persons on the Electoral Rolls up to midnight 24 March 1971
  • Descendants of the above-mentioned persons.
  • Migrants who entered on any day between these two dates, and remained there, would need to register with a Foreigners Tribunal.
    • For 10 years, they would have all rights of a citizen except the right to vote, which would be granted at the end of 10 years.
  • Those who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the authority.
  • Migrants who entered Assam on or after March 25, 1971, are not eligible for citizenship.

Categories not included in draft

  • ‘D’ doubtful voters
  • Descendants of ‘D’ voters
  • Reference pending at foreigners tribunal
  • Descendant of the reference pending at foreigners tribunal

Mechanism to identify Migrants

IMDT Act

  • Identification was done throughIllegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, applicable only to Assam. Foreigners Act was in force elsewhere.
  • This Act, made applicable only to Assam, was expected to identify and deport illegal migrants in the state.
  • This Act was stuck down by Supreme Court in 2005 (SarbanandaSonowalvs Union Of India &Anr)
  • Supreme Court observes that the act made it difficult to deport illegal immigrants from Assam. It has been alleged to be one of the main reasons for the rapid demographic change in Assam

 

  • In 2014, Supreme Court referred the constitutionality of section 6A to a larger bench. The Court also directed to update NRC
  • Also, Supreme Court asked the Government to establish diplomatic discussions with Bangladesh to streamline the process of deporting illegal Bangla migrants.
  • NRC updation was carried out under The Citizenship Act, 1955, and according to rules framed in the Assam Accord
  • The NRC is being updated in accordance with the citizenship rules 2003
  • Final draft of NRC was updated on 30th July 2018

Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016

  • This bill promises citizenship right to six prosecuted religious minorities, including Bangladeshi Hindus.
  • This has underlined a geographical divide in Assam with the Bill.
  • Assamese-dominated Brahmaputra valley protest against the bill while it is being welcomed in Bengali-dominated Barak Valley, Assam’s southern tip.

Issues / Challenges with NRC

  1. Errors in Exclusion and Inclusion:
  • A lot of people are being excluded from the list due to clerical error
  • Many people especially women who migrated to Assam are not able to procure their necessary documents of inheritance as these are not published in their home districts or original places.
  1. A large number of people affected by the rejection of Panchayats residency certificates
  2. The sudden appearance of an “original inhabitants” category and they being subjected to less rigorous scrutiny is another issue.
  3. The government’s proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which will provide citizenship to those who entered India till 2014 create a confusion. This may make whole NRC updation with a base year of 1971 a futile exercise
  4. The whole process is accused of arousing communal tensions along Hindu-Muslim lines.
  5. There may be strain in relationships with Bangladesh as the people identified as illegal immigrants need to be deported.
  6. Neither the state nor the Centre has clarified what happens to those who lose their cases in the Foreigners’ Tribunals, whether they will be detained, deported or allowed to stay on without the rights and privileges of citizenship.
  7. There is a fear of deteriorating law and order situation due to exclusion of large number of people
  8. India’s image in international arena could be tarnished as the status of these citizens would remain unsettled.

Way forward

  • Government should update the NRC as soon as possible to end the uncertainties over the citizenship status of large number of people
  • Government should form a clear policy as to what will be done about those who are proven to be non-citizens as soon as possible
  • Government should also took immediate measures to control any law and order situation.
  • Steps should be taken to provide correct information to every citizen to fight fake news and communal hatred
  • Government should also find a way to deport illegal migrants as India yet not have any treaty with other country for deportation
  • Although the updation of NRC is essentially required to ensure that the cultural and ethnic integrity of Assam is restored and the Assamese people can access and utilize the resources that are rightfully theirs.
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